Colorado Student Overcomes Active Shooter and Saves Lives
The STEM School in Highlands Ranch, Colorado became the scene of a school shooting on May 7th. Shortly before 2 p.m., two shooters opened fire on students at two different locations “deep” within the campus. One shooter was an 18-year-old former student, and the second shooter was a 16-year-old current student.
One of the shooters entered a classroom, brandished a pistol and ordered students not to move. Without hesitation, 17-year-old Kendrick Castillo leapt to his feet and pinned the shooter against a wall. Castillo was shot during this confrontation. Meanwhile, three other students rushed the shooter, tackled him, pulled him to the ground, and disarmed him. Tragically, Kendrick Castillo perished as a result of his injuries.
The second shooter was detained by an armed security guard, who was hired as an alternative to an SRO. 14 minutes elapsed from the time the first shot was fired to the time both shooters were taken into custody by law enforcement. In total, eight students were shot.
The STEM School is a K-12 charter school with 1,850 students.
Key Learning Points:
- Kendrick Castillo and his fellow students saved countless lives by confronting and overcoming the shooter in their classroom. “Overcome” is a last-resort strategy, but it was absolutely appropriate and necessary in this incident.
- As with the overwhelming majority of shootings occurring at middle and high schools, the shooters were current and former students.
- One of the shooters had a reputation as a bully and joked about carrying out a school shooting.
- Both suspects were armed with illegally-obtained handguns.
12 Killed in Virginia Beach Shooting
A Virginia Beach public works employee carried out a horrific shooting on May 31st, killing 12 victims and wounding four others. The shooter electronically submitted his resignation hours prior to the shooting but was still an employee of the city and had access to restricted areas. The shooter used his electronic keycard to enter areas closed to the public and began shooting employees and visitors in the municipal building. The shooter was armed with a .45 caliber pistol equipped with high-capacity magazines and a “silencer”. Authorities believe this silencer enabled him to surprise his victims and create confusion.
The shooter roamed throughout the building, firing randomly at different victims. Local police responded immediately and entered the building to locate the shooter. Unfortunately, these officers were delayed in locating the suspect due to a series of locked doors they were unable to open.
Officers eventually located the suspect in an office on the second floor of the building. The suspect began shooting through the wall and door of the office, striking and injuring a police officer. The officers immediately made entry to the office and killed the suspect during a shootout.
While this incident did not take place at a school or childcare facility, it is important to understand and apply key learning points to your area of responsibility.
Key Learning Points
- The shooter used a silencer to muffle his firearm and confuse victims and responding law enforcement officers. Witnesses reported the suspect’s weapon sounded like a “nail gun”.
- Officers were unable to access several locked doors on the second floor of the building. Ensure that local law enforcement has access to your school’s exterior gates and any doors they may need to utilize during an emergency. Take the initiative – law enforcement may be unaware they do not have the necessary keys for your facility.
- Be aware that certain door locks designed to keep classrooms “locked down” may prevent law enforcement from gaining access in a timely manner.
- The shooter had an electronic key and was able to access locked doors in restricted areas. This demonstrates the importance of incorporating barricades into your active shooter response.
Are Your Active Shooter Drills “Security Theater”?
According to many school psychologists, inappropriate, stress-based active shooter drills are traumatizing students and educators. In his recent opinion piece written for USA Today, Jason Parmenter, a seventh-grade English teacher, elaborates on this phenomenon, referring to it as “security theater”. He’s not wrong.
The majority of active shooter training sessions are typically provided by former/current military and law enforcement personnel who present hyper-realistic, stressful scenarios to educators. Often, these training sessions involve the firing of painful projectiles. Research has shown that human beings retain less information when taught through fear-based methods. So why are we giving this type of training to our educators and our students?
Key Learning Points:
- Active shooter drills and training sessions should not be based on anecdotal evidence.
- Not all former/current law enforcement and military personnel are active shooter “experts”.
- Active shooter training should always include trauma-informed instructional methodologies.
- Educator-facing active shooter training sessions should never include stress and fear-based instructional methodologies.
- Active shooter drills can easily go awry and expose you and your school to significant liability.
- Context must be provided to students prior to engaging in any type of violent intruder drills. “Cold” drills contribute to student anxiety, particularly in younger populations.